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In this picture taken on March 3, 2020 and provided by Unicef Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore, centre and WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, left, seated, interact with 3rd grade children, at Tal Amara school, southern Idlib, Syria. Image Credit: AP

Amman: The coronavirus pandemic could jeopardise vaccination campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa, Unicef warned Sunday, saying millions of children could miss out on polio and measles immunisations.

The UN agency said most countries in the region were continuing with routine campaigns, under strict controls to prevent the spread of the virus.

But it warned that some vaccination campaigns had been suspended as health workers were diverted to fighting the COVID-19 illness.

“As a result, one in five children or 10 million children under the age of five risk missing their polio vaccination,” it said in a statement.

“Nearly 4.5 million children under the age of 15 risk missing their measles vaccination.”

Ted Chaiban, Unicef’s regional director, said it was “absolutely critical that every child gets immunised against deadly diseases including polio, measles, diphtheria and hepatitis”.

He said measures including disinfection, protective clothing and social distancing meant that “immunisation for children is possible even in the time of COVID”.

Unicef and the World Health Organisation warned in mid-April that around 117 million children worldwide risked contracting measles as dozens of countries curtailed vaccination programmes to battle the pandemic.

The head of the global organisation fighting polio told AFP in early April that the novel coronavirus had dealt an unprecedented blow to mass immunisation drives, risking a resurgence of the disease.